Sept. 17


Oklahoma conservative group examines death penalty ---- Local conservative group discusses morality and economics sense of death penalty

Illinois death row survivor Randy Steidl said he can't explain the feeling he had when convicted of a crime he did not do. He spent 18 years on death row in Illinois after being wrongly convicted in 1987 for the brutal murder of a newlywed couple. He was released in 2004.

"It was like sitting on a bed of hot coals. You can't scream out and somebody is pointing at you that you did something you know you didn't," Steidl said.

Steidl and Ohio death row survivor Kwame Ajamu spoke in Guthrie this week before the Oklahoma Republican Liberty Caucus.

Logan County Commissioner Marven Goodman is chairman of the group and said the group represents a group of disenfranchised conservatives who are not satisfied with the direction many conservatives have taken in state government.

Goodman said he does not place much trust in government regulations. So he questioned why he should trust the government to execute people.

"What I will take away from this is tonight is the personal stories of these people that have been wrongly accused and put on death's door by the state," Goodman said.

In the United States 156 people have been wrongly convicted and sentenced to die before a court order reversed their death sentences because of DNA evidence, ineffective defense lawyers and new information about the crimes.

Steidl said his attorney was not prepared to defend him.

"But I was still hopeful when I went to death row. I went from my home to death row in 97 days," Steidl continued.

His mother cleaned houses to buy him a burial plot before it was determined 2 expert witnesses had charges pending on them and were chasing a $25,000 reward offered by the original suspect in the case.

The case was politically sensitive. It was organized crime, related to the Gambino crime family, Steidl said.

"Without the judicial review I finally got, I'd be dead today or at least be languishing in prison, Steidl added. "I really believe that Oklahoma"s track record so far is not very pretty when you've got 10 people that's been exonerated," he said.

Oklahoma has wrongly convicted 10 death penalty survivors since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976, said Marc Hyden, advocacy coordinator for Conservatives Concerned About the Death Penalty. The group is a project of Equal Justice USA.

Oklahoma has among the highest per-capita death penalty rates in the nation with 112 executions since 1976, he said.

"We don't know how many innocent people might have been executed because there is no method in the criminal justice system to go back and try them," Hyden said.

A 2015 Sooner Poll revealed 53 % of Oklahomans support abolishing capital punishment and replacing it with a sentence of life without parole, plus restitution to victims' families.

Oklahoma voters will decide the fate of State Question 776 on Nov. 11. SQ776 adds a new section to the Oklahoma Constitution to allow the Legislature to allow any method of execution not prohibited by the U.S. Constitution (see State Question 776: The final official ballot title is as follows.)

"It seeks to make sure that it can't be viewed as cruel and unusual punishment," Hyden said.

He fears more options would become available for executions such as firing squads, hangings and nitrogen gas.

Hyden pointed out that Oklahoma used the wrong drug to execute Clayton Darrell Lockett in 2014, and has had drug mix-ups during the last 2 execution attempts in 2015. He said he is pro life but the way the death penalty is run makes it offensive.

"This is a government that makes many mistakes," Hyden said.

As a fiscal conservative he cannot abide with the expense of the death penalty for the state during trials and the appeals process. Death row is about twice as expensive for housing prisoners as housing in a maximum security prison, Hyden said. It costs $2 million more than the life cycle of an inmate sentenced to life without parole, he explained.

Ajamu, 58, said did 28 years of his life in an Ohio prison for a robbery and murder of a Cleveland money-order salesman he did not do. Three of those years were on death row beginning at age 17. He was exonerated in 2014 after the key witness recanted his story.

"It has been my personal experience - and I tell you this is as pure as gold - when someone accuses you of something you didn't do you become defensive," Ajumu said. "But when someone accuses you and thus punishes you for something you didn't do, it hurts more than I can explain."

He never slept well because he was constantly thinking of ways to make a court realize he was innocent.

"The worst thing a state can do is hide evidence and buy and cheat to win a case," Ajamu said. "Prosecutorial misconduct is the worst thing that can happen. Those guys were to serve and protect, but they spilled dreams."

For more information about Conservatives Concerned About the Death Penalty, go to

State Question 776: The final official ballot title is as follows:

This measure adds a new section to the Oklahoma Constitution, Section 9A of Article 2. The new Section deals with the death penalty. The Section establishes State constitutional mandates relating to the death penalty and methods of execution. Under these constitutional requirements:

-- The Legislature is expressly empowered to designate any method of execution not prohibited by the United States Constitution.

-- Death sentences shall not be reduced because a method of execution is ruled to be invalid.

-- When an execution method is declared invalid, the death penalty imposed shall remain in force until it can be carried out using any valid execution method, and

-- The imposition of a death penalty under Oklahoma law - as distinguished from a method of execution - shall not be deemed to be or constitute the infliction of cruel or unusual punishment under Oklahoma's Constitution, nor to contravene any provision of the Oklahoma Constitution.

(source: Edmond Sun)


Death penalty ballot issue hearings scheduled

Nebraska Secretary of State John Gale has scheduled three public hearings in October on the death penalty question that will be on the state's general election ballot.

The hearings are required by state law, 1 in each of Nebraska's 3 congressional districts.

They are for Referendum No. 426, which will ask voters to either retain or repeal the law (LB268) that did away with Nebraska's death penalty in 2015. The bill also set the penalty for 1st-degree murder at life in prison.

The referendum will be the only statewide issue on the Nov. 8 ballot.

A petition drive that followed shortly after lawmakers abolished the death penalty resulted in enough signatures to put the question on the ballot, as well as enough signatures to stop the death penalty repeal from taking effect until voters could weigh in.

At the hearings, supporters of repealing LB268, which banned the death penalty, will be invited to speak first. Gale will moderate the hearings. Anyone is welcome to testify or attend.

"This is more than an informal town hall meeting," Gale said. "All comments become part of a permanent record on the issue. The purpose of the public hearings is to help educate citizens and the media through a meaningful exchange of views on the subject prior to the general election."

People who go to the hearings also will get information on how to interpret the language on the ballot, he said.

"In this case, voting to either retain or repeal doesn't apply to the death penalty itself. Rather, voters are being asked to decide whether to repeal LB268, thereby, reinstating the death penalty."

The 1st hearing will be Oct. 11 at 6:30 p.m. at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, Barbara Weitz Community Engagement Center, 6400 University Drive South.

The 2nd is Oct. 13 at 6:30 p.m. at the University of Nebraska at Kearney, Nebraskan Student Union, 1013 W. 27th St.

The last hearing is Oct. 18, 6:30 p.m. in Room 1525 at the Nebraska State Capitol.

In addition to the hearings, the secretary of state will print and distribute written materials about Referendum No. 426. County election officials may have copies of the pamphlets in their offices, and some may be in libraries and other locations.

The pamphlets will go out in the coming weeks. In addition, a copy will be published at

(source: Lincoln Journal Star)


Death penalty public hearing set for Oct. 13 on UNK campus

Interested voters may participate in a public hearing about the death penalty Oct. 13 at the University of Nebraska at Kearney.

According to a press release from Secretary of State John Gale's office, Referendum 426 asking voters to either retain or repeal LB268, which abolished the death penalty and set a maximum penalty for a 1st-degree murder conviction at life in prison, will appear on the Nov. 8 general election ballot.

Referendum 426 will be the only statewide issue on the ballot. It qualified following a petition drive that resulted in enough signatures for ballot placement, as well as enough to keep LB268 from going into effect until voters could weigh in.

"Witnesses will be able to address the underpinnings of what this issue is about, but also how to interpret the language when it appears on the ballot," Gale said in the press release. "In this case, voting to either retain or repeal doesn't apply to the death penalty itself. Rather, voters are being asked to decide whether to repeal LB268, thereby, reinstating the death penalty."

Those supporting Referendum 426 will be invited to speak first, followed by those opposing the measure. Hearings are moderated by Gale. Anyone may testify or just attend and listen.

"This is more than an informal town hall meeting," Gale said in the press release. "All comments become part of a permanent record on the issue. The purpose of the public hearings is to help educate citizens and the media through a meaningful exchange of views on the subject prior to the general election."

The public hearing will begin at UNK at 6:30 p.m. in Nebraskan Student Union Ponderosa Room E.

(source: Kearney Hub)


Park City killing could become death penalty case

Summit County prosecutors in the summer enhanced the charge in a February shooting death in Park City from murder to aggravated murder, a more serious count that allows them to seek the death penalty upon conviction if they opt to do so.

James Henfling had been charged with a count of murder with a dangerous weapon enhancement since a gun was used to kill Jose Fernandez. Joy Natale, a Summit County prosecutor assigned to the case, said in an interview a recent Utah Supreme Court case allows the count to be enhanced to aggravated murder as a result of the shooting occurring as part of a separate suspected offense of aggravated burglary. Natale said Henfling's entry into the apartment where the shooting occurred became unlawful when he fired the gun, prompting the enhancement of the charge to aggravated murder.

A preliminary hearing in the Feb. 22 shooting is scheduled in October. The judge will decide afterward whether to order Henfling to stand trial in the case. The judge uses a lesser standard when deciding whether to bind someone over for trial than a jury does when considering whether to convict someone.

If Henfling is bound over for trial, prosecutors will have 60 days to file a notice of intent with the 3rd District Court to seek the death penalty if he is convicted. Natale said the Attorney's Office has not decided whether it will seek Henfling's execution if he is convicted. Summit County Attorney Robert Hilder will ultimately make that decision.

Prosecutors have also charged Henfling with a 1st-degree felony count of discharging a firearm with serious bodily injury and a count of aggravated burglary with a dangerous weapon enhancement, which is also a 1st-degree felony.

In a charging document, the prosecutors say the Park City Police Department was called to the 7-Eleven on Park Avenue after a woman described as distraught went to the convenience store and then told the police Henfling, her boyfriend, shot a person. Henfling went to the store soon after, ordered out of a vehicle at police gunpoint and detained, the prosecutors said.

Officers responded to a condominium on Empire Avenue and found Fernandez on his back and bleeding from a gunshot to the head, the charging document says. He was taken to a hospital and died on Feb. 26.

Henfling's sister was at the condominium and saw the shooting, the prosecutors said. The charging document said Henfling admitted to the police he shot Fernandez with a .40-caliber pistol.

Fernandez worked at the No Name Saloon & Grill and Boneyard Saloon & Wine Dive. He was 37 years old.

Henfling, who is 28 years old and from Midvale, is incarcerated at the Summit County Jail, where he has been held since his arrest in February. Bail is set at $250,000, cash only. Henfling's attorney did not immediately return a phone message seeking comment.



"The Death Penalty Denies God's plan of Mercy": Abp. Gomez on Repealing California's Death Penalty

In a new video released earlier this month, Los Angeles' Archbishop Jose H. Gomez encourages Catholics throughout the state to join the Bishops of California in ending capital punishment by voting for Proposition 62 on November 8.

The Archbishop notes that, "The Church teaches that the death penalty can no longer be accepted." "Every life is sacred," he explains, as "every person has a dignity that comes from God" and it is to "God alone" that "life belongs."

"The death penalty," he continues, "denies God's plan of mercy and justice."

As the video message comes to a close, Archbishop Gomez reminds viewers that "killing the criminal does not bring justice to the victims."

The death penalty is an attempt to quench our sinful thirst for blood, our thirst for revenge, for power over life and death, our desire to scapegoat and condemn as opposed to reform and fight for justice.

"Rather than condemn them to death," the Archbishop closes, "as Christians, we should pray for their conversion and encourage their rehabilitation ... this is why I ask you to join me and the Bishops of California this November 8 to vote yes on proposition 62 which will repeal the death penalty in California. Together, let us answer the call of Pope Francis to seek mercy and a world without the death penalty."

It does make sense that this nation of capitalism is also composed of many states retaining the use of capital punishment, as both are forms of state-sanctioned execution and go together.

Of course, we hope Californians repeal capital punishment once and for all by voting for Prop 62.


Keith Michael Estrada



Dylann Roof Wants The Jury Reminded They Are Never Required To Impose The Death Penalty----Lawyers for the accused Charleston shooter responded to the prosecutors motion to limit his use of a "mercy" defense at trial.

Dylann Roof's defense attorney responded this week to the prosecution's request that the court limit the accused Charleston church shooter's use of a "mercy" defense when he goes on trial for the killing of 9 people on June 17, 2015 inside the Emanuel AME church.

The main point being debated by each side in the case is whether or not it is appropriate for the judge to instruct the jury that each juror is by law never required to impose a sentence of death in any case. The prosecution's position is that mercy may enter into the debate over Roof???s sentence as a possible mitigating factor to be discussed during the sentencing phase of the trial, should Roof be convicted, but not before.

Roof's attorneys write that in their motion the government "conflates 2 distinct concepts in federal capital jury instruction."

'[F]irst, that the [Federal Death Penalty Act], by its terms, never requires a jury to impose a death sentence prior to discretionary finding that any aggravating factors sufficiently outweigh the mitigating factors," Roof's attorneys write. "[A]nd 2nd, the separate argument that, following the weighing process and a finding that the death penalty is justified, jurors should be permitted to exercise mercy and impose a sentence of life without the possibility of release."

Roof's attorneys add that the jurors need to be instructed on this point that a death sentence is never required of them in order to avoid confusion or an assumption that "the law will have determined in advance what crimes and offenders are to be punished by death."

"This persistent and widespread confusion should not come as a complete surprise," the attorneys write. "Few jurors - or judges, for that matter - will be glad to learn that the life of a fellow human being has been consigned to their discretionary moral judgement. Faced with this prospect, it is simpler to believe - even if it is not true - that the law itself provides the answer to the momentous question of life and death."

Earlier this week, the federal judge in the case ordered that jury selection will begin on Sept. 26 with 3,000 prospective jurors asked to appear at the district courthouse in Charleston. Phase one of jury selection will involve filling out a questionnaire that will include a list of possible witnesses - prospective jurors who know these witnesses will be excused. The questioning of individuals jurors has been tentatively scheduled for Nov. 7.

Roof's attorneys write that they intend to include an instruction to jurors stating that they are not required to impose the death penalty in any case when they submit their proposed jury instructions on Oct. 11.

(source: BuzzFeedNews)

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